Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Catching Up: #FourComics...That I Read In The 90s

Moreso than any decade before or after, the 1990s led comic book fans astray, left in the lurch, or feeling like they'd been had...did we want comic books with covers that looked like decorative notebook stickers designed by Lisa Frank? They sure looked pretty, especially with a big " #1" stamped in bold on the cover. It was hard to tell if anybody was actually thinking about reading this stuff, more preoccupied with hoping they could flip it. But the comic shops and publishers aren't hoping you get rich, are they? It felt like a Hobson's choice: read the stuff you like that the others don't care about, or collect the stuff you don't care about because that's what everyone else is talking about...and assume you can flip it in the near future.

And the cover prices were going up. This "hobby" - a word not often used anymore to describe comic collecting/reading - will no longer be casual spending.

I was still following the Disney Comics. The Disney company took back the character license from Bruce Hamilton to try self-publishing, which seemed logical, until they crashed and burned, too dependant on questionable marketing research. The survivor was Disney Adventures Magazine, a small digest that lasted the early-2000s like a little engine that could, running on moss-covered track. Hamilton got the license back in 1993, in time to serialize Don Rosa's magnum opus, The Life And Times Of Scrooge McDuck, in issues of Uncle Scrooge. To date, the Disney ducks  ( and mice ) have been carried by six different publishers within the last 25 years  and endured.

Other surprises that survived the 90s were Bongo Comics, founded by Simpsons creator Matt Groening to publish Simpsons ( and later, Futurama ) comic books. Upon acquiring the Hanna-Barbara characters, DC Comics' Scooby-Doo comic remains in print, alongside Looney Tunes as part of their "kid-friendly" line.

Marvel's Ren and Stimpy was "kid-friendly" because it's writer, Dan Slott, wasn't allowed to write fart and booger, in my humble opinion, the book required actual, disciplined comedic wit (for the time that Slott was writing it, anyway) that outclassed the cartoons. The issue guest-starring Spider-Man  ( Slott's first time writing the character ) is a classic farce. I still remember the scene where Spidey suggests substituting powdered toast flakes with spider-silk on Ren and Stimpy's toast for breakfast...I imagine that would taste better than the Spider-Man tie-in breakfast cereals offered in the real world.

Speaking of an incarnation from a different medium outclassing the source material, Batman: The Animated Series was the best take on Batman offered, and a tie-in comic book series, The Batman Adventures, didn't lose anything in translation. Mad Love was a one-shot "special" issue, featuring story and art by the best-known of the TV series' creators, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm. I didn't get a chance to read it until around 1998, when it was reprinted with that magnificent painted cover as a "prestige format" trade paperback graphic novel. Mad Love was the best Batman comic of the 90s.

What would eventually be referred to as "The Timmverse" could also be found in Superman Adventures. The best issues were when Mark Miller was writing the book, offering an uncharacteristicly light approach compared to his better-known efforts on The Authority, Wanted and Kick-Ass. This issue featured a team-up with Batgirl to save a kidnapped Bruce Wayne from The Mad Hatter, in a plot reminiscent of the Superman: The Animated Series episode, "Knight Time". Cool art by Mike Manley.

I had no knowledge of what transpired in Spider-Man comics between his meeting Ren & Stimpy and his wife Mary Jane's miscarriage  ( a low down, nasty moment that would foreshadow other, cheap and nasty moments in the future of Spider-Man comics ), but I was enjoyed the Saban-produced, Spider-Man cartoon on FOX saturday mornings, so I picked up this particular issue of Spectacular Spider-Man, part 1 of  the 3-part "Goblins At The Gate", which featured the original Green Goblin against the original Hobgoblin, who was my favorite of the 90s cartoon villains featured on the show, thanks to the inspired notion of casting Mark Hamill as the voice of the character and using his Joker voice from Batman: The Animated Series. The arc was also plotted by Roger Stern, who is considered one of the top 2 best Spider-Man writers ( the other being Stan Lee, of course ), so the those 3 issues had more snap than a lot of Spider-Man comics offered in the late-90s.  At the time, my knowledge of Goblin continuity/history could fill the back of one or two trading cards, so I was surprised to see that Norman Osborn was back from the dead, or that there was more than one Hobgoblin, but I caught the reference to a once-trendy obscure 90's TV movie called Barbarians At The Gate. This arc was also a follow-up to Stern's Hobgoblin Lives mini-series, so I read that next, then continued reading more until I was up to date...the goblins are the Yosemite Sam and Elmer Fudd of Spidey's rogues gallery, anyway ( with Wile E. Coyote as Doctor Octopus ) to Spidey's Bugs Bunny...and realizing that it felt like nobody at Marvel particularly liked Spider-Man as a character in his present incarnation, as a married man; they were nostalgic for when he was a teenager, which amounts to the first 2 or 3 years of the character's history...

Goblins At The Gate had an anticlimactic ending, but it was a good page-turner. It had great covers by John Romita Sr., so it looked like classic, iconic Spider-Man. After this, it felt like everyone working on Spider-Man was trying too hard to achieve what they felt should be "classic" Spider-Man..but the #FourComics I posted on Twitter representing what I read in the 2000s were not one of Spider-Man's...

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Catching Up: #FourComics...that I read in the 80s

Nostalgia for comics begats hashtags...when I posted the following four images on Twitter months ago, I was surprised at how easy it came to choosing them - and the exact issues...there were other comics I recall reading as a the end of the day, you pick the ones that become hashtag worthy.

Alf's potential was better-realized when he became a comic book character. I always liked the character, but Alf the sitcom had weary jobbing actor Max Wright's inappropriately taciturn and melancholy Willie Tanner giving the series a kind of gloom that shouldn't be there. The comic book, however, was free of these murky waters and Alf's world opened up.

That issue of Uncle Scrooge was the first one I ever read. I was already a fan of the character as he appeared in cartoons, but the comics  ( particularly the comics published by Bruce Hamilton under the imprint 'Gladstone Comics' ) made it clear that there was a whole lot more to discover.

Legends of The Dark Knight was trending in the late-80s, with it's higher quality paper, variant covers for the premiere issue and stories written by in the vein of Batman: Year One. I still recall reading the conclusion to Dennis O'Neill's "Shaman" arc...the beginning of it, anyway, with Bruce Wayne getting the drop on an intruder at Wayne Manor by swinging down from a chandelier..a good 25 years before that song by Sia made it cool, rather than a reckless act usually performed by swashbuckling Musketeers.

I realize what these four comics had in common was they were world-opening. You may have heard of the term, "World Building" used by comic book writers and artists. World-Opening is my way of explaining how a writer and artist show that there's a lot more to what you believed you knew about your favorite characters and there is more to see. There is a fine line between the two terms, but it is there. In world-building, you're going back to basics, or arguing that "Everything you know is wrong," but in world-opening, you're introducing new avenues and vistas for characters to encounter and engage in. We got to see what Alf's spaceship looked like ( kind of like a 50's Studebaker with fins supporting booster rockets), we got to see what a Ducktales episode would look like if Donald Duck was part of the regular cast, and we got to see the Ninja Turtles experiment with alternate costumes within the context of their adventures, and not as action figures in toy stores.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures #13 from Archie Comics was an excellent example of world-opening. I didn't know why Raphael was wearing a purple spandex suit, or why the turtles were engaged in a battle royal against an army of bug soldiers in a deserted amphitheater, or why it seemed like writer Dean Clarrion ( the pen name of Mirage Studios' go-to writer Steve Murphy ) was depicting the seemingly final fates of Krang, Bebop, Rocksteady and the Shredder when they were still featured in the cartoons, but it was an incredible issue and I wanted to keep following it. IDW recently reprinted most of issues from that run, so I was able to fill in the blanks on some long-unanswered questions.

I also remember reading Wally the Wizard and Asterix, but the hashtag said " #FourComics "...I don't make up the rules..

Next time: #FourComics...that I read in the 90s.

Monday, April 27, 2015

"Star Wars: Kenobi" by John Jackson Miller

I wish John Jackson Miller had not pegged Kenobi as a Western from the get-go with his introduction at the start of the novel. The tale works incredibly well simply as a Star Wars story and needed no added novelty to draw readers in. It is a well-written epic in minature about Obi Wan Kenobi's early days living in exile as a hermit on Tattooine, encountering more danger than he thought he would. So if you paid no mind to Miller's words, you have a good chance of enjoying a new adventure that didn't echo any Clint Eastwood/Jimmy Stewart westerns...or episodes of Samurai Jack, for that matter.

This is also the first Star Wars novel I saw with the "Legends" tag when it debuted on paperback, which notes the decision by Disney-Lucasfilm to create a new, official continuity that will ignore the novels published before A New Dawn and let them slowly go out of print once the new line is established. I had commented on this development in an earlier post titled, "Luke Skywalker's Nightmare..Or Ours?" I can keep this post from going off on a tangent and reccomend you check that out first or continue reading my review of Kenobi. Or continue onward. :)

In retrospect, the most interesting part of Kenobi is how Miller reconciles the two different portrayals of the character with this new adventure. The 1st half of the novel depicts an Obi Wan not unlike the relatively aloof, Merlin-esque "wizard" Ben Kenobi, played by Sir Alec Guinness, as well as recreating the atmosphere of Tunisa shown in A New Hope. The 2nd half, with it's busy spaceports and alien creatures and floating anti-gravity hovercraft speeding across the desert, recall the manic energy of better moments offered by the prequel film trilogy.

So, yes, this is a good book, but I probably had more fun imagining the casting if it was adapted into a film. I imagined Charlize Theron as the heroine, Annileen Calwell, alongside Gerard Butler as the shady Orrin Gault ( a character who resembles a darker take on Owen Lars, Luke's Uncle, from A New Hope )...And why stop there? If this story had been adapted by George Lucas in the 80s, I could imagine Audrey Hepburn as Annileen ( inspired by her playing Maid Marion in Robin & Marion ...and a photo of her in a cowboy hat from 1958 ), Gregory Peck as Orrin  ( while best-known and beloved today for playing Atticus Finch in "To Kill A Mockingbird", Peck was more convincing at playing bastards , as he did in the camp western, "Duel In The Sun" ) , and, if Alec Guinness should refuse, Nicol Williamson as Ben.

Onto the highlight reel! :)

Friday, April 24, 2015

I Made 'Comic Shop News'!

Comic Shop News is a free weekly newsletter offered at most comic book stores, highlighting news about current or forthcoming comics offered. As a bonus, each new installment reprints a week's worth of installments of the ongoing Amazing Spider-Man newspaper comic strip, written by Stan Lee, drawn by his brother Larry, with Alex Saviuk drawing on weekends. It's the only place that still features Spidey married to Mary Jane Watson...for now, anyway.

Around late-December/early-January of every year, CSN presents The Red "K" Awards, named after Superman's rarely seen foil, red kryptonite, the awards offer a recap of the best and worst, the highs and lows, the cheers and jeers of things that happened in comics within the last year. And best of all, CSN concludes their Red "K" Awards by turning it over to the readers and letting us write-in our own Red K's, the best of which are printed and featured in a forthcoming issue of CSN.

And so...MY Red K got printed in Comic Shop News last week!!

"The Cooke-d Books Award"

I checked the email I had sent to mention the other write-in suggestions I came up with :

The "Finders Fee" Award
For Batman '66: The Lost Episode.

- I thought the price for this special issue was too high, considering that the bulk of it (the introduction of Two-Face, based on an unproduced script by Harlen Ellison, adapted for the comic book by Len Wein and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez) was about the same length as an average issue of Batman '66..and I can still recall the days when a "prestige format" one-shot was around $5.95/$6.99, not $9.99.

The "Spider-Sense Fatigue" Award
For Marvel Comics' Spider-Man: Spiderverse crossover.

- For what is essentially a romp, I found this Spider-Man "event" to be kind of leaden..not bad, but perhaps symbolic of Marvel's boredom with Spider-Man/Peter Parker...once upon a time, Marvel Comics had one character named Spider-Man, Peter Parker with no other "Spider-..." counterpart to speak of, and that was all they needed for the first 10-15 years or so...or maybe this is a reflection of their frustration with the unanimous negative reaction to most of the Spider-Man comics published since "One More Day"?...

One out of Three. Not bad. I'll try again next time.